Explain how the alliteration in the following passage creates cacophonous language.To Heorot came she, where helmeted Danesslept in the hall. Too soon came backold ills of the earls, when in she...

Explain how the alliteration in the following passage creates cacophonous language.

To Heorot came she, where helmeted Danes
slept in the hall. Too soon came back
old ills of the earls, when in she burst,
the mother of Grendel. Less grim, though, that terror,
e’en as terror of woman in war is less,
might of maid, than of men in arms
when, hammer-forged, the falchion hard,
sword gore-stained, through swine of the helm,
crested, with keen blade carves amain.
Then was in hall the hard-edge drawn,
the swords on the settles, and shields a-many
firm held in hand: nor helmet minded
nor harness of mail, whom that horror seized.
Haste was hers; she would hie afar
and save her life when the liegemen saw her.
Yet a single atheling up she seized
fast and firm, as she fled to the moor.
He was for Hrothgar of heroes the dearest,
of trusty vassals betwixt the seas,
whom she killed on his couch, a clansman famous,
in battle brave. -- Nor was Beowulf there;
another house had been held apart,
after giving of gold, for the Geat renowned. --
Uproar filled Heorot; the hand all had viewed,
blood-flecked, she bore with her; bale was returned,
dole in the dwellings: ’twas dire exchange
where Dane and Geat were doomed to give
the lives of loved ones. Long-tried king,
the hoary hero, at heart was sad
when he knew his noble no more lived,
and dead indeed was his dearest thane.
To his bower was Beowulf brought in haste,
dauntless victor. As daylight broke,
along with his earls the atheling lord,
with his clansmen, came where the king abode
waiting to see if the Wielder-of-All
would turn this tale of trouble and woe.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Beowulf is a story-length epic poem which utilizes the devices of poetry.  Your question assumes there is a significant use of cacophony in the passage you've given.  Cacophony is harsh, unpleasant sounds;I would make the case that there is no significant use of cacophony in this passage.  Alliteration (the repetition of initial sounds) is clearly present; however, most of the alliteration is euphonic (pleasant-sounding) and not cacophonic.

Most of the alliteration (and actually consonance, as well) involves the use of these letters:  d, h ,l ,m, n, f, b, and s.  These are generally softer and more euphonic, as evidenced in the following lines. 

firm held in hand: nor helmet minded
nor harness of mail, whom that horror seized.
Haste was hers; she would hie afar
and save her life when the liegemen saw her.
 

In contrast, cacophony can be heard in the k or ch sounds, as in the following three disconnected lines scattered throughout the passage:

crested, with keen blade carves amain....

whom she killed on his couch, a clansman famous,...

with his clansmen, came where the king abode....

In a passage of more than thirty-five lines, only a few of them are cacophonic, making this passage significantly more pleasant-sounding than harsh-sounding. 

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